Fauci offers support for Trump

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci warns new coronavirus mutation may cause virus to spread more easily GOP Arizona lawmaker says Fauci and Birx 'undermine' Trump's coronavirus response Overnight Health Care: Experts fear July 4 weekend will exacerbate coronavirus spread | Texas Gov. Abbott will require masks in most of the state | Fauci warns: 'We are not going in the right direction' MORE on Monday sought to squash any notion of a fissure between himself and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE, saying at the opening of a coronavirus task force briefing that the president repeatedly and immediately backed social distancing recommendations from Fauci and other public health officials despite the economic pain.

“The first and only time that I went in and said we should do mitigation strongly, the response was, ‘yes, we’ll do it,’” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters in the White House briefing room on Monday evening.

Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, was seeking to clarify remarks he made a day prior in an interview with CNN when he said that more lives could have been saved if the federal government had moved forward with social distancing guidelines directing Americans to avoid public places and travel earlier than mid-March.

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The remarks followed a New York Times report saying that public health officials went to Trump during the third week of February to recommend he issue such guidelines.

Fauci said Monday evening that he didn’t know the date he and Deborah Birx went to Trump to make a formal recommendation but insisted that Trump listened to the advice from public health experts, offering solidarity with Trump amid criticism of the White House response to the pandemic.

“We discussed it. Obviously, there would be concern by some that in fact that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the president listened to the recommendation and went to the mitigation,” Fauci told reporters.

He also described as a “poor choice of words” his remarks to CNN when he said there was “pushback” to shutting the country down at the end of February. 

Asked by a reporter if he was clarifying his remarks voluntarily, Fauci shot back.

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“Everything I do is voluntarily,” Fauci said. “Please, don’t even imply that.”

The developments came 24 hours after Trump stoked questions by retweeting a conservative account that called for him to “#FireFauci.” The White House earlier Monday issued a statement denying Trump was planning to fire the top public health official, dismissing talk of it as “ridiculous” media speculation.

The top public health official has endured criticism from conservative circles in recent days, particularly following the remarks on CNN over the weekend.

“Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that,” Fauci told CNN’s Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperCarson calls for local leaders to 'condemn vandalization of statues,' 'dismantle autonomous zones' Officials couldn't reach Trump on golf course to delete retweet of video showing man chanting 'white power': report Democratic officials, governors push for nationwide mask mandate as administration defends state-by-state approach MORE when asked if more lives could have been saved if social distancing measures had been implemented earlier than Trump issued them.

Fauci on Monday took issue with the hypothetical nature of the question while largely standing by his answer that lives could have been saved.

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“Yes, obviously, mitigation helps,” Fauci said. “If mitigation works and you initiate it earlier, you will probably have saved more lives. If you initiated it later, you probably would have lost more lives.”

Fauci also said Trump listened to recommendations from public health officials to extend the social distancing guidelines until the end of April, despite concerns from some about the economic damage caused by the measures.

“Obviously, there were people that had a problem with that because of the potential secondary effects,” Fauci said. “Nonetheless, at that time, the president went with the health recommendations.”

Fauci’s remarks come as Trump mounts an increasingly aggressive defense of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The president has been scrutinized for downplaying the threat from the virus early on, and his administration has been faulted for delays in testing that experts say hampered the overall response to the virus.

Trump has decried a New York Times report describing him as slow to respond to the outbreak as “fake” and during Monday’s briefing aired a campaign-style clip that highlighted measures he has taken to combat the virus and praise from state’s governors for his response.

"The press has not treated these incredible people who have done such a great job — they haven’t treated them fairly. They’re way off. We were way ahead of schedule," Trump said. "Everything we did I was criticized because I was too early."